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Fantasy Relief: Bottom falling out for Valverde?

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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Perhaps it's time for Jose Valverde to tone down his on-the-mound celebrations and focus on getting back to being a shutdown arm. The eccentric Tigers' closer has had a rocky first two months, and if he is not careful, calls for his job might not be too far off.

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Valverde was arguably the majors' most efficient closer in 2011, going a perfect 49 for 49 in save chances during the regular season. Unfortunately, he suffered his first blown save of the season in the opener against the Red Sox and suffered his third blown save of the season Saturday against the Yankees. Luckily for Valverde, he has won twice in blown-save situations, but something isn't right with the hefty closer nicknamed Papa Grande.

Valverde has relied heavily on his four-seam fastball again, throwing it 79.5 percent of the time. Sadly, he continues to lose velocity on that pitch. He is averaging 93.6 miles per hour, which is the third straight season it has been in decline. Valverde is also losing velocity on his second-most popular pitch -- split-finger fastball -- averaging just 84.4 mph. He was averaging 85.9 on that pitch last year.

But the drop in velocity isn't as alarming as the lack of movement Valverde is seeing on his four-seam fastball and his ability to fool hitters.

Valverde's horizontal movement on his four-seamer in 2011 was -7.03. In 2012, that number is -5.99. In 2011, Valverde was getting batters to whiff at a 9.8 percent rate and swing at a 46.4 percent clip on his four-seam fastball. In 2012, those numbers have dropped to 7.6 percent and 42.5 percent, respectively. Batters are making contact on 80.1 percent of Valverde's offerings, which is a career-worst, and swinging and missing just 8.4 percent of the time, which is also a career-low.

The key revelation here is that batters are being a little more patient with Valverde. But is that the only thing plaguing him?

He has a career-worst 6.3 walks-per-nine-innings rate this season. That number has only been over 5.0 once in Valverde's career and that was in 2004. Why's that significant? Because that season after taking the closer's job from Matt Mantei in May, Valverde would eventually lose the closer's job to Scott Service. Manager Bob Brenly eventually handed the job back to Valverde, but the then-26-year-old reliever would make his final appearance of the season on June 13, missing the rest of the year with shoulder and forearm problems. Perhaps Valverde is dealing with durability issues again in 2012.

The question beckons -- where does Valverde go from here? If you are a FIP and xFIP convert, then a rocky road lies ahead for Valverde. His ERA through 21 1/3 innings is 4.64, but his FIP is 5.02 and xFIP is 5.54, which indicates that his ERA should be higher than what it actually is.

Valverde missed some time in mid-May with a lower back strain. At that time, manager Jim Leyland tabbed Joaquin Benoit as his temporary closer, with Phil Coke as his backup option. In a year where closer instability has been the talk of the majors, Leyland might want to keep his contingency plan in place just in case his burly closer can't right the ship.

Closing Time

Each week we'll break down closer situations worthy of further examination ...

N.Y. Yankees: CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman is reporting the Yankees are expected to keep Rafael Soriano in the closer's role once David Robertson comes off the disabled list in mid-June. It's not a shocking revelation and something we have been hinting at for weeks. Heyman got one scout to evaluate Robertson and said, "(Robertson) didn't look quite as comfortable closing games.'' Soriano is a perfect 7 for 7 in save situations and has the experience in the closer's role. Keeping Robertson as a dominant setup man is probably better for the Yankees' bullpen in the long run.

Top non-closers Week 9 (H2H)
Player Points
1. Chris Sale, RP, White Sox 65.5
2. Drew Hutchison, RP, Blue Jays 53
3. Felix Doubront, RP, Red Sox 46.5
4. Matt Moore, RP, Rays 35
5. Michael Fiers, RP, Brewers 27.5
6. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 25.5
7. Felipe Paulino, RP, Royals 24.5
8. Jeff Samardzija, RP, Cubs 23
9. Ernesto Frieri, RP, Angels 22.5
10. James Russell, RP, Cubs 20

Seattle: Remember when Mariners manager Eric Wedge said after removing Brandon League from the closer's role that everyone would be up for save chances except Hisashi Iwakuma? Well, you guessed right, Iwakuma has been the only Mariners reliever to record a save since League's demotion. However, it's not what you think. Iwakuma pitched the final three innings of a 21-8 win over Texas to record his first save and pitched the 12th inning of a 10-8 win against the White Sox after Wedge emptied out his bullpen. Tom Wihelmsen still seems like the ideal closer candidate, with Shawn Kelley perhaps emerging as a sleeper option down the road if he is able to regain his pre-elbow injury form. Another guy worth keeping tabs on is hard-throwing right-hander Stephen Pryor, who made his MLB debut on June 2. Pryor has experience closing in the minors and appears to have the arsenal to potentially close games. He did strike out 12.3 batters per nine innings in his minor-league career. Wedge has indicated he wants League back in the closer's role, but League continues to work through his problems in non-save outings, leaving the door open for other relievers to emerge with the job.

Chicago Cubs: Cubs manager Dale Sveum said over the weekend that the team is in no rush to get Carlos Marmol back in the closer's role despite Marmol's ability to finally throw strikes consistently since coming off the disabled list. Sveum also said he's not ready to put labels on his relievers, but it does seem as though James Russell is emerging as the leading candidate for saves. Russell recorded his first major-league save on May 29 against the Padres and returned the next day to pitch the ninth inning in a 6-6 game, eventually earning the win thanks to Darwin Barney's walk-off homer.

San Diego: The Dale Thayer experiment is coming to a close in San Diego. Huston Street has finally recovered from his lat injury and has resumed closer duties for the Padres. Thayer did well in the closer's role, converting all five of his save chances. Manager Bud Black now has a go-to reliever in case the oft-injured Street finds himself on the shelf again or perhaps is traded later this summer.

San Francisco: Another Giants closer is injured. After losing Brian Wilson for the season because of elbow problems, new closer Santiago Casilla is now day to day with a bruised right knee. It's unfortunate timing for Fantasy owners because the Giants had three save opportunities over the weekend. Javier Lopez closed out Friday's win after Casilla was hurt in the ninth inning, while Sergio Romo had consecutive saves Saturday and Sunday. However, it really seems as though Bochy doesn't want to make Romo a full-time closer, even if Casilla needs a DL stint. Lopez pitched to the first two batters in the ninth Saturday before Romo recorded a one-out save. Romo then came back Sunday to record a two-out save after Barry Zito couldn't go the distance in a 2-0 victory. Romo has emerged as one of the best relievers in the NL and it doesn't seem Bochy wants to pigeonhole him into using him exclusively in save situations. Romo mostly pitches as an eighth-inning setup man regardless, but it appears Bochy wants to be able to call on him at any moment and not have him unavailable because a save situation might arise later in a game. Romo is still probably the next in line for most save chances, even if they come in the one-out variety, but for now there is no talk of a DL stint for Casilla.

Top non-closers Week 9 (Rotisserie)
Player Rank
1. Tom Wilhelmsen, RP, Mariners 32
2. Clay Hensley, RP, Giants 41
3. Ernesto Frieri, RP, Angels 42
4. Matt Belisle, RP, Rockies 43
5. James Russell, RP, Cubs 48
6. Nate Jones, RP, White Sox 53
7. Luis Marte, RP, Tigers 54
8. Adam Ottavino, RP, Rockies 47
9. Glen Perkins, RP, Twins 48
10. Jeremy Accardo, RP, Indians 50

Arizona: David Hernandez had to fill in during a save situation last Wednesday because closer J.J. Putzwas out with a stiff neck. Bryan Shaw earned some saves for Arizona earlier this season, but Hernandez is the guy manager Kirk Gibson will likely turn to in the event Putz ever misses extended time. Hernandez had 11 saves last year for Arizona and has been locked in lately, posting a 1.96 ERA in his last 20 games (18 1/3 innings).

Call to the 'pen

Each week we'll break down pertinent Fantasy news with setup men and other relievers ...

Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said Sunday he's trying to keep Brian Duensing out of the rotation, despite the team's need for starters. Duensing has thrived in a relief role this year and Gardenhire doesn't want to go searching for another quality left-handed reliever, which would happen if he moved Duensing into the rotation … Don't be too shocked that the Tigers have had Luis Marte toss at least three innings in each of his first two outings since coming off the disabled list. Marte is a former minor-league starter, so while he might no longer be conditioned to start, he still has the ability to fill in as another long reliever for Detroit. Marte could emerge as a viable Rotisserie Fantasy arm, especially if he ends up as a wins vulture and keeps up his current strikeout rate (8.1 K/9) … All the attention in the White Sox bullpen this season has been focused on the ever-changing closer situation, which for the time being seems settled on Addison Reed. But that distraction has overshadowed the work of rookie reliever Nate Jones, who is 3-0 with two holds, a 1.61 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 19 relief outings. He also has 28 strikeouts in 28 innings. Jones also is a former minor-league starter turned reliever, so he's probably most valuable to Chicago in a middle-relief role. But Jones did get some closer experience in 2011 for Double-A Birmingham, recording 11 saves, so perhaps his name might one day emerge if the closer situation remains unsettled in the Windy City … I should be Brad Brach's agent for as much publicity as I give the 26-year-old hurler, but I think he might also emerge as a closer candidate later in his career. He is still having some control problems in 2012, but Brach is finally starting to settle down and is becoming a strikeout machine for San Diego. He has recorded 22 strikeouts in his last 13 2/3 innings. If you are looking for strikeouts in a Rotisserie format, then consider adding Brach to your roster … Indians reliever Jeremy Accardo -- who's rediscovered his splitter -- has turned him into a very effective major-league reliever again. Accardo has produced a 1.69 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in eight appearances since his mid-May promotion from the minors. He also has struck out 12 batters in 10 2/3 innings. Accardo has mostly pitched in losses, but if he continues on his current path, Cleveland might find some hold situations for him. Don't forget: Accardo closed 30 games for Toronto in 2007 … I remember the days when Troy Patton was a promising starting pitcher prospect, but then his career was derailed because of injuries. Now that Patton is healthy, he has carved out a role in the Orioles' bullpen and is starting to show why he was a top prospect once upon a time. Patton has struck out 20 batters in his last 12 2/3 innings.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Michael Hurcomb at @CBSHurc . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com

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Player News
Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia not concerned with runs allowed
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:05 pm ET) Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia isn't worried about how spring training has gone so far. The former Cy Young award winner doesn't care that his numbers, an 11.57 ERA in 4 2/3 innings, look so bad, reports the New York Daily News.

"I don't give a (expletive) what stock (people) put in it," Sabathia said. "It is what it is. I've had spring trainings where I've given up a lot of runs and went out and had a good season. I've had spring trainings like last year where I didn't give up no runs and I gave up five in the first game. Y'all can put stock in whatever you want. I'm not really worried about it."

Manager Joe Girardi expressed a similar mindset.

"The bottom line is that he's right Opening Day," Girardi said. "You try to evaluate his stuff and how you feel about that. What we've seen this year is much more positive than what we’ve seen the last, you know, in velocity, the discrepancy between that and the change up and slider, so now to me it's just ironing out and being more consistent."


Braves P Shelby Miller looking forward to new start
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:00 pm ET) After being traded from the Cardinals, Braves pitcher Shelby Miller is looking forward to a new start with his new ball club, reports MLB.com. He spent his first three years with the Cardinals.

"I'm looking forward to a clean start to the season because getting traded over from St. Louis, you never really expect that," Miller said. "It's everything I've known, being drafted by them and coming through the farm system and stuff like that.

"But it's exciting. You're getting traded from a good team to another. I'm excited about the opportunity with my new teammates. I think we have a great chance to do something special here in Atlanta, and I'm looking forward to helping however I can."

Over his career, the right-hander has an ERA 3.33 with 312 strikeouts and 134 walks.


Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes shines again in outing Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:58 pm ET) Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes continues to impress the club with his poise and prowess on the mound, reports the Boston Herald. Barnes was called on with two runners on and two outs after previous pitcher, Stephen Wright, gave up five unearned runs.

He managed to get a groundball and get out of the inning. He finished with four strikeouts and no runs allowed  in 2 1/3 innings of work.

"It was good to be in a situation like that, coming in, especially in the middle of an inning, I haven't done that in a while, starting an inning with a guy on second and having to pitch through that," said Barnes. "I was happy with all of it."


Athletics' Tyler Ladendorf pushing for spot on Opening Day roster
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:51 pm ET) Athletics utility man Tyler Ladendorf is increasing his chances by the day of making the Opening Day roster in Oakland, reports MLB.com.

Ladendorf, who was suspended for 50 games last year after testing positive for a drug of abuse, has turned heads just about every day he's been on the field.

"Tyler's really emerged this year for us," manager Bob Melvin said this week. "To me, he looks a lot more confident here. We put him on a roster for a reason. His versatility stands out, and we're all about versatility. He has a similar versatility to Ben Zobrist. He can play any of the outfield positions, any of the infield positions, and does well defensively, and his bat emerged last year as well. He's one that's stood out."

Ladendorf just hope it translates into a roster spot.

"Any time you got them talking about you," Ladendorf said, "you're doing something right."


Tigers P Bruce Rondon not a lock for the roster
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(6:49 pm ET) After spending last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, Tigers pitcher Bruce Rondon believes he'll be ready to go for the start of this season, reports MLB.com. But the pitcher is not guaranteed to make the roster.

"I know that we've been discussing it quite a bit," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I do think you have to keep in mind that he came to Spring Training and hadn't pitched in a game in a long time. Whether he makes the team or not, or whether we think he needs more development, the important thing is his strength is there, the arm strength is there. In the long term or even in the near term, you would think he's going to have some impact on the Detroit Tigers. But I think your questions are fair and they're certainly questions that we've discussed."

Rondon has yet to pitch a full season at the Major League level. This spring he has an ERA of 5.68, allowing 10 hits, two home runs while walking two batters.


Blue Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna tagged with blown save Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:43 pm ET) Blue Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna last just 1/3 of an inning Saturday in relief against the Braves. Osuna was tagged for one run on three hits with one walk and earned a blown save. Osuna didn't sound to worried about his struggle Saturday, reports MLB.com.

"I'll learn from today and I'm going to try to make those adjustments for the season," Osuna said. "I think it was a good day.

"That's going to happen in the season so I've got to get ready. I think everything was there. I just missed a couple fastballs a little bit up and they hit it."


Nationals' Stephen Strasburg roughed up in start Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:39 pm ET) Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg is still washing off the effects of a sprained left ankle suffered last week in the weight room. It showed Saturday as Strasburg gave up four runs on four hits, including two home runs, in four innings of work.

"It's kinda like a trust factor," Strasburg said. "You sprain your ankle really bad you're bracing for it so it's hard to get over that. I didn't really feel anything alarming so it's progress. I've just gotta keep going out there and I'm sure it'll be an afterthought soon."

Strasburg still thinks he has enough time to get his ankle right for his first start of the regular season.

"Yeah, it's going to have to be," Strasburg said. "The thing is you make 33 starts. The biggest thing is having the stamina up there, and I'm just going to go out there and give everything I have and keep plugging along."


Reds remain without plan for Cuban pitcher Raisel Iglesias
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:35 pm ET) Reds pitcher Raisel Iglesias is still in limbo as the final week of spring training looms, reports MLB.com. Iglesias may make the pitching staff as a bullpen arm or be sent down to the minors for some extra work, but manager Bryan Price won't say just yet.

"I imagine he might be a little of both this year, and where he does it, I just don't know yet," Price said on Saturday. "We'd be hard pressed to throw him out there for 30-plus starts at any level and think we're going to be able to control his innings to a level we're comfortable with."

Iglesias has made three starts this spring with three other appearances out of the bullpen. 

"He needed to be more effective with the location of his fastball," Price said. "That's something we did see in the [Arizona Fall League] and instructional league, better command of the fastball in the strike zone. We know it's in there. But his fastball command hasn't been as good as we have seen in the past. We're working on helping him improve."


Rockies OF Corey Dickerson leaves game due to back tightness
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(6:32 pm ET) Rockies outfielder Corey Dickerson left Saturday's game after the third inning due to lower back tightness, according to the Denver Post.

His exit was said to be precautionary and he should be back in action soon. Dickerson told the media that his scheduled play on Sunday is now a "maybe." He added that if this was the regular season he would have played through it.

The 25-year-old is batting .273 with twelve hits, one triple, one home run, four doubles and six RBI in 15 games played this spring.


Tigers optimistic Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez ready for Opening Day
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:25 pm ET) Tigers manager Brad Ausmus expressed optimism he will have both first baseman Miguel Cabrera and designated hitter Victor Martinez available for Opening Day, reports MLive.com.

"I'd say, as of right now, I'm optimistic that we can have them both ready for Opening Day," Ausmus said. "But I'm probably more optimistic that at this point that Miggy will be ready to play."

Cabrera, who hit his second home run of spring training Saturday, missed nearly a month after surgery to remove bone spurs in his right ankle while Martinez underwent surgery in early February for a torn meniscus in his left knee.


 
 
 
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